For developer Gunfire Games and CEO David Adams, making a video game exclusively for virtual reality was a no brainer. VR has the potential to change the way people play video games. With a VR headset strapped to your face, there’s an astounding sense of immersion, making you feel like you’re being transported to fantastical locations. So far, this new technology is anything but a gimmick, especially if passionate game makers continue to churn out full-length experiences like Chronos.
Gunfire Games' first foray into VR development is a role-playing game about a young hero’s quest to save his homeland from grisly villains. Gameplay is most similar to Dark Souls and Bloodborne; Chronos is a methodical, challenging, and tactical hack-and-slasher. But more importantly, its beautiful art design, beguiling settings, and environmental storytelling are tailormade for VR.
You’ll Get Lost In Chronos’ Awe-Inspiring Locations
After working on the Darksiders series -- games in which you fight a slew of ghastly monsters as the two Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- for a few years, the transition to VR development was exciting for Gunfire.
“I personally think Chronos is quite a bit different than Darksiders, having worked on and played both games,” Adams shared with me. “They just have different rhythms. On top of that I think the big thing you have to see to believe is the sense of presence in VR. This is the analogy I always use. I’m sure many people have seen pictures of a castle, but for those who have been inside an actual castle in real life, they know that actually being there is vastly different than just seeing a picture, or even a movie, of a castle. VR takes you to that castle, traditional games shows you a video of that castle. The difference is huge.”
Gunfire takes full advantage of working with powerful new technology by creating mammoth locations to get lost in, creating a sense of scale that feels and looks satisfyingly inflated in VR. You’ll be in awe of the gargantuan Egyptian statues and redwood trees you’ll be encountering throughout, all looming above your comparatively small figure. There’s a vast ocean begging for you to dive in and explore it, with a harsh and intense thunderstorm bellowing overhead. The enemies you’ll be fighting are stunning as well, from ancient rock giants to vicious cloaked and masked woodland creatures.
Chronos’ art direction would still be splendid without VR, and Gunfire’s experience working with the two Darksiders games is readily apparent throughout Chronos. The former two titles are a colorful voyage into the Book of Revelation’s rich mythology; the Horsemen of the Apocalypse never looked more lively and eccentric. The developer maintains its artistic capabilities with Chronos, and setting a VR game in high-fantasy locations was always the plan.
“That’s why we chose to make an RPG, and why we chose to do fantasy,” says Adams. “I’ve seen fantasy creatures, locations, etc… in many different games, but I’ve never actually BEEN to any of those locations. The first level we made had you facing off against a giant cyclops, and when we got it working and you could sit there and actually look at this giant cyclops looming over you, it was a pretty awe inspiring moment.”
Adams adds, “I noticed when demoing early content on the Oculus Rift, that there were a lot of demos where someone had just built a room or a single scene – and you just sort of stood there gawking at the fact that you felt transported to this made up place. For Chronos we wanted to make a full fantasy world, one where there wasn’t just a single room to gawk at, but 100s of rooms. And that’s what we did, and we added the gameplay into those 100s of rooms to tie it all into a game.”
Getting Gameplay Right In VR Is Challenging
Nailing the gameplay and incorporating a third-person perspective in VR were some of the biggest challenges for Gunfire. While creating a full-length experience for the Oculus Rift was expectedly exciting for the studio, it had to constantly be aware of the technology’s limitations. After all, these VR headsets are only starting to release for the first time this year. Balancing the comfort level for players is a huge obstacle, for one.
Since players are able to do mostly anything they want while in VR, like riding a rollercoaster that wouldn’t exist in real life, there’s still a risk of making players nauseous, and physically awkward. Tradeoffs have to be made between what you’re doing in a VR game, and what the experience is physically like actually playing it.
“Well this mostly affected our choice of camera,” says Adams, talking about one such tradeoff. “We wanted an experience that was 100% comfortable for everyone playing the game. To do that we had to make sure that there was no camera movement outside of what the player does with their physical body. Because of that we opted for a third person fixed camera. Players are still free to look around, move their head – even stand up and walk around if they want. But the game itself never moves the camera. This makes it comfortable for pretty much everyone.”
Not only is the Darksiders series an obvious source of inspiration in Chronos, but Gunfire was also inspired by a slew of other titles. Developer FromSoftware’s Souls series influenced Chronos’ focus on strategy and tactics in combat. Battling enemies is often a game of chess; how do I inflict the most damage without getting hit? Besides combat, Chronos also focuses on environmental puzzle-solving, and exploration.
“Right off the bat we knew we wanted something that was a little slower paced and deliberate, because we wanted players to spend time looking around at their environment (because that’s cool to do in VR),” says Adams. “On top of that, we wanted to incorporate more puzzle elements, so that players had even more incentive to be aware of their surroundings. For those types of mechanics, we took some inspiration from old adventure games, or from games like Resident Evil (which is basically an old adventure game with horror elements).”
Even though Chronos is an excellent first foray into what a meaty, RPG epic is like to play in VR, there’s still plenty of things developers can continually get better at when making games for this new platform. There are definitely some obvious improvements, like maximizing every single pixel to ensure even prettier experiences in the future. The VR headsets themselves will continue to improve, and become more comfortable to wear and cheaper to purchase. But what’s more exciting, however, is the potential for entirely new game genres to exist. Something people haven’t seen or played yet.
“I also think there will be a lot of cool exploration that will result in some crazy new game genres that simply aren’t possible outside of VR,” says Adams. “I think complete 100% immersive presence is the ideal goal – that you are so completely transported to some new world or place, that you brain forgets that it isn’t real anymore and perceives and treats that made up place as being real.”
With or without these improvements, players will have to settle with Chronos to get their VR fix, and that's more than fine.
Chronos is now available for the Oculus Rift.